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Failure to protect young worker costs timber company dearly

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A timber company has been fined $60,000 for failing to protect a young inexperienced worker who lost a thumb and three fingers following a workplace incident on 7 October 2015.

At a sentence hearing in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on 4 December 2018, the company was found to have failed its obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 as a duty holder to protect the teenage employee.

The 19 year old, a son of the general manager, was using a Wadkin Docking Saw. He’d been given an induction and supervised for a period of time using the saw by other experienced staff. The young man was considered competent in the saw’s use.

The worker was unable to describe the exact circumstances of how his hand came into contact with the saw, indicating it was on the return of the blade after cutting the timber.

A Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigation identified that three months prior to the incident an external audit identified some component guarding missing from the saw. It recommended replacement as a high priority.

The audit results were discussed during a safety committee meeting, but ultimately overlooked and no action was taken. The prosecution alleged a number of failures by the company including; no installation of adjustable duckbill and kidney guards, lack of adequate risk assessment (taking into account the frequency of use and the severity of harm which could result), no prestart inspections, and a no effective tag out procedures and removal of defective plant in accordance with Codes of Practice.

Magistrate Noel Nunan noted the injured worker provided a statement which explained his employer had been fully supportive post incident and provided him with a different position in the company which he enjoys and is excelling in.

His Honour also indicated the lack of guarding, in his opinion, made no difference to how the injury was sustained. The worker had his amputated fingers successfully reattached and has use of them, but not such as to be able to return to his previous role.

Magistrate Nunan also took into account this was the first offence for a company with around 15 employees working at the plant and which has been operating for 35 years. Induction and training was considered to be reasonably comprehensive, as was the supervision of junior staff.

His Honour reaffirmed previous court rulings that persons conducting a business or undertaking need to be aware young workers often are anxious to please employers and can take risks. He again stressed employers need to guard against this.

The defendant was fined $60,000 plus professional costs of almost $1,600. No conviction was recorded.

Further information

For more information on industrial prosecutions, visit worksafe.qld.gov.au.

Media contact: oirmedia@oir.qld.gov.au or 0478 33 22 00

Last updated
05 December 2018